I was watching an umpteenth “Learning” or “Nature” channel “Disaster” documentary with the wife the other day – about some cataclysm, or other, that may just strike the US of A* anytime soon, if mankind doesn’t do anything to prevent it – and it struck me that so much time, effort and money appears to go into creating these films and the only thing you retain from them is the climate of alarm and apprehension they diffuse!
I suppose it’s all meant to convince the viewers, if not the general public at large, that if the viewers, in this particular case my wife and I, want to live in a better world then we’d better start doing something about it before it’s too late!
But instead of motivating me, the pure sensationalism of them irks me. All that time, effort and money spent on them and for what? To cow the witless viewer or galvanize the “Greenpeace militant” that lies dormant within us all? Couldn’t it all be used more constructively, like actually doing something about changing the situation instead of bemoaning it?
*Apparently in most of these US made documentaries there only ever seems to be a risk for the US of A, never Russia, China or elsewhere. Having said that I happen to know from personal sources that the Russians – their national pride possibly slightly piqued at not even occasionally being the subject matter for a “Learning” channel “Disaster” documentary – chuckle, somewhat sardonically, at the thought of the US of A disappearing, from coast to coast, under a thick mantle of ash when the Yellowstone caldera explodes. Rather that, they say, than the Kamchatka caldera, which, anyway, would probably devastate more of Alaska than it would European Russia, but it’s the principle that counts!
NB. I also happen to know what the inhabitants of Irkutsk, Russia think of global warming. Pragmatically speaking if global warming means having winters at minus 49° Celsius instead of minus 50° Celsius then why not?
Problems and debates… but where are the solutions?
So what are they, the people sponsoring these documentaries, themselves, really trying to say and more importantly what are they actually doing about preventing the apocalypses they’re announcing? Generally the documentaries expose a problem, real or potential, but that’s all! Where’s the solution? Where’s the “proactive”? Where’s the orientation? Where’s the “Hope” message, and I don’t mean: “If you switch off lights when you leave a room, you’ll save the world ”!
As I said all the viewer retains is a sense of alarm and inevitability that disaster is to be expected if the John and Jane Does of the world don’t do everything in their power to change the situation, now, which is a bit of an absurdity really. The Power to change things is a Flowdown phenomenon – governments decide, people adapt – but on flowing down the power to do anything gets diluted and becomes illusory, homeopathic, supposed to make the public feel they still have some control over their actions.
Some years ago I watched a 1973 film called “Soylent Green”, with Charlton Heston, taken from the book by Harry Harrison, author of the “Stainless Steel Rat” series. The film, a precursor to Ridley Scott’s dystopian “Blade Runner”, struck me at the time as being rather kitsch, with Heston, of Moses and Ben Hur fame, appearing to be in the film because he’d received his Tax return and needed the money(!?).
If, like me, you’ve been weaned on Asimov, Blish, Clarke and Kubrick you’re resolutely realist but positive in your outlook towards the future and mankind’s capacity to find solutions (the image of Apple’s famous 1984 super bowl hammer throwing commercial comes to mind) but what I retained from this particular film was the scenario of how world governments [surreptitiously?] resolved the overpopulation/food shortage problem in a world where the climate was changing, from greenhouse effect, and the oceans were dying… a shuddering prospect.
But that was almost 40 years ago and the question that comes to mind today is: If when initially writing the story, back in the 1960s, Harry Harrison had already popularized problems such as “Greenhouse gases”, overpopulation and world food shortage, and if in the 1980s countries, including the US of A, managed to ban use of toxic CFC (chlorofluorocarbon) gases from aerosols and fridges, then why haven’t the same governments done anything else, of any significance since then to anticipate, prevent or deal with the problems these “Learning” channel documentaries talk about today?
You’d have thought that, mankind, starting with the above-mentioned countries and governments would’ve already done something to tackle these issues, especially if it was in their interest to do so… and no, I do not think trading pollution quotas is helping to fight global warming!
Apparently anticipatory films like “Soylent Green”, not to mention “2001: A space Odyssey”, or the genial “A Clockwork Orange” are pure science fiction with no correlation with real issues!
So, instead of organizing fund-raising charity events – as Al Gore spent so much energy doing and got an Oscar and a Nobel Peace prize for! (BTW what tangible economic benefits ever came from these actions?) – why don’t these high-profile personalities sponsor studies, with concrete timeframes to deployment of the proposed solutions, just like any run of the mill R&D action in any run of the mill multinational company?
Perhaps Mr. Gore is sponsoring such R&D actions, that we, the general public, just haven’t heard about. Occasionally you do get wind that organizations, like the NASA, are discreetly working on programs a) to eliminate certain, if not all, potential dangers coming at us from outer space, b) to evacuate mankind to another planet should e.g., in the very near future, the sun ever risk being swallowed up by the first black hole that happens to transit the solar system… but apparently such subjects aren’t as sensational as talking about a possible mega-tsunami that could submerge the eastern seaboard of the US of A (http://www.lapalma-tsunami.com/).
Visionaries! Stand up and be counted
Maybe it’s still too early in 21st century but where are the visionaries, such as Messrs, Asimov, Blish, Clarke, Verne & Wells, to show the way? Maybe I’m not looking in the right places and maybe the visionaries are there, making things happen. People such as U2’s Bono, or Sir Richard Branson are already out there so let’s see and hear a lot more about these people and their works and a little less of the woe-mongering, sensationalist, Disaster documentaries the “Learning” channels show!